Globe West sports

Weston hits bumps in road back to state title

Weston High girls’ soccer coach James Blackwell, the center of attention during practice Wednesday, has given his team a lofty goal in his second season at the helm: to repeat as state champions in Division 3. Weston High girls’ soccer coach James Blackwell, the center of attention during practice Wednesday, has given his team a lofty goal in his second season at the helm: to repeat as state champions in Division 3. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Jason Mastrodonato
October 23, 2011

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WESTON - It didn’t take long during last week’s soccer match between the girls’ teams from Weston High and Dual County League rival Bedford for spectators to get a bit dizzy. It was like watching a pinball machine being played by a regular at the neighborhood pub.

Over and over, the Weston girls strung together a handful of passes, eventually moving possession into the final third. And over and over, one clumsy ball, loose touch, or bad bounce would lead to a Bedford player smacking it right back up the field.

Kick-and-run soccer. The style, often used by athletic teams with less technical ability, was stumping the Weston girls. The Wildcats needed a win against a 5-7-2 Bedford squad to clinch at least a share of the DCL Small Division title. But aside from a penalty kick late in the second half, the Wildcats could not score, and two defensive breakdowns led to a 2-1 loss, they’re fifth of the season in 13 games.

“We just weren’t focused today,’’ said junior captain Maddie Linde.

“I don’t get it,’’ said Weston’s coach, James Blackwell. “We beat Concord-Carlisle, and I mean beat them, 2-0. Then we beat up on Newton South and draw 1-1. We can’t beat Bedford. I really don’t know.’’

The season has been one of inconsistent play for the defending Division 3 state champions.

While there’s still time to sort it all out, the state tournament is just a few weeks away. And the Wildcats’ goal, ultimately, was not just a league title, but to be the best team in the state.

A league championship? Some coaches won’t even talk about it. A sectional title? A state title? Those are afterthoughts. Every team wants to win a state title, but not every program has a coach willing to say that the expectation is a state championship. Even Concord-Carlisle’s coach, Nancy Slocum, told her well-respected team in the beginning of the fall, “Let’s focus on the next game at hand, and that game only.’’

But Blackwell has no problem expecting another crown, for all the stars to align two years in a row. Three years ago, he arrived in this country from England, and last fall, in his first season as coach at Weston, guided the Wildcats to the state title.

On the first day of preseason workouts this year, Blackwell told his girls: “We can do it again. We’re going to win states.’’

An emerging star as the lone striker in Blackwell’s 4-4-1-1 formation, 5-foot-7 freshman Lane Cronin was not on top of her game against Bedford.

“She had an off day,’’ said Blackwell. “When that motivation goes, you know you’re playing badly. She comes off and says she’s really sorry. I said, ‘Don’t apologize, let’s just get this right. You’re working as hard as you can, but it’s just off today.’ It just happens.’’

Cronin is still learning. And she brought a full set of skills to a Weston squad with a void on the attack after the departure of Emma Dagres, who suffered a shoulder injury last spring during the lacrosse season.

“It’s a real shame they lost her,’’ said Slocum. “But I think Lane Cronin has proved to be quite efficient in scoring goals.’’

Cronin plays club soccer for New England Football Club, one of the premier teams in the area, and entered the season already having earned the respect of many. It took just a few upper-90 benders for the rest of her teammates to understand.

“We knew when we saw her play that she was going to be special,’’ said Linde, who is the second-leading scorer in the Dual County League, with Cronin third.

Linde is vocal, versatile, quick, strong, and technically gifted with a knack for the goal.

The 5-foot-10 holding attacker likes to shoot - she watched four shots sail wide or high during the second half alone Tuesday against Bedford.

“We encourage her to shoot,’’ Blackwell said. “We’ll take those all day.’’

Sweeper Sarah Peters thinks she’s better at lacrosse than soccer. Blackwell would argue the point. The junior, who serves as a giant vacuum on the back line, plans to play lacrosse in college. Soccer is to keep her in shape.

But she was clearly the fastest player on the field Tuesday, and perhaps the strongest, sending a few Bedford players to the ground with just a light, unintentional bump. Even at 5-foot-5, Peters is known by her teammates as one of the best headers on the squad. With a young defense bound to make some mistakes, and a goalie, Alissa Duffey, who, while skilled and athletic, doesn’t play club soccer, Peters could prove the difference come tournament time, when solid defense proves its importance.

“She’s incredibly reliable,’’ Linde said.

“Fast, very fast,’’ added Cronin. “She’s always there, right when they’re about to score, she arrives.’’

The words on the back of her practice jersey are a quote from Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.’’

Blackwell put a different quote on each of the girls’ uniforms, and the captains print out fresh ones for everyone to stick in their shin guards.

“Some of them are genuinely afraid of taking a risk or succeeding,’’ said Blackwell. “It’s just a different mindset. The message is don’t be afraid.’’

O’Brien is not alone

The book is out on Concord-Carlisle High’s team: Stop Andrea O’Brien (31 goals, seven assists), the leading scorer in Eastern Massachusetts, and a win is in sight.

“I think it’s a mistake to think Andrea is the only way we score,’’ said Slocum, in her 14th year coaching the Patriots. “But I can see why people can draw that conclusion. She’s able to score in a variety of ways. She’s difficult to stop. But I think we have many people who are capable of scoring.’’

Don’t forget Mehta

Lexington High’s Caroline Fitzgerald has proven that she can find the net: Her 16 goals lead the Middlesex League and her scoring is one of the major reasons her squad is 11-1-3.

But don’t forget about central midfielder Nandi Mehta, who has committed to Northwestern for next year.

“In my opinion she’s the best player in the Middlesex League,’’ coach Frank Pagliuca said of Mehta. “She’s a facilitator. There’s not many like her in high school.’’

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